The Egyptian authorities moved to arrest Muslim Brotherhood leaders as a military-appointed interim president was sworn in with the challenge of healing a polarized nation following the ouster of Mohamed Mursi.
The Brotherhood’s senior leader, or general guide, Mohammed Badie, was taken into custody July 2, the day before Mursi was removed from power by the army, the state-run Ahram Gate website said yesterday. The state-run Middle East News Agency said the former general guide, Mahdy Akef, was also detained, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of the group’s deputy chief, Khairat el-Shater, South Cairo prosecution official Ahmed Ezz el-Din said by phone.
Egypt’s new leadership is taking action on two fronts after removing Mursi a year into his term as the first democratically elected civilian president. His exit followed four days of mass protests in the capital and across the country.
The military says it’s determined to bring about national reconciliation. Even so, the arrests and the imposition of travel bans on Mursi and other Islamist leaders, as reported by state-run media, may upend the stability efforts, with supporters of the ousted president scheduled to protest across Egypt today.
Al Arabiya television reported today that gunmen attacked Egyptian army outposts in the Sinai peninsula. The television channel, citing its own reporters, said there were numerous, coordinated attacks lasting about 15 minutes.
“We declare our unequivocal rejection of the military coup against the elected president and the will of the people and refuse to participate in any action with usurpers of power,” the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement yesterday. “We call on demonstrators to show restraint and commitment to peacefulness. We denounce repressive practices of the police state.”
Fireworks lit up the night sky in central Cairo yesterday evening as those opposed to Mursi descended on Tahrir Square, where celebrations continued. Chants of “the people have brought down the regime” and “long live Egypt” rang out.
The injury toll from yesterday’s politically motivated clashes in Egypt stood at 101, Ahram Gate said, citing health ministry official Khalid al-Khatib. The official said 96 of those injured were in Mursi’s home province of Sharqiya in the Nile Delta.
Egypt’s armed forces said in a statement on their Facebook page that the nation’s people have a right to protest and express their views, while cautioning that the misuse of those rights could threaten “civil peace.” The military’s statement also called for national unity.
The new president, Adly Mansour, 67, promoted just days earlier to chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, inherits stewardship of a nation with a sluggish economy, a political landscape fraught with uncertainty and the opposition of disgruntled Mursi supporters.
“The greatest thing accomplished on June 30 is that it has united all of the people, without differentiation or discrimination,” Mansour said at his inauguration in Cairo yesterday, referring to the first of several days of rallies that paved the way for Mursi’s ouster.
The veteran judge, deputy to the head of the constitutional court since 1992, spoke in the same chamber where Mursi was sworn in a year ago. Mursi and the justices locked horns in battles that left his Islamist backers complaining about a judiciary they said was biased against them.
The travel bans issued against Mursi and the other Islamists were linked to allegations that include inciting violence, according to MENA.
Both Badie and el-Shater, who was initially fielded for the presidency only to have the bid scuttled, were widely seen by Mursi’s critics as the real power behind the presidency.
The military’s moves against the Islamists harked back to the repeated crackdowns the group endured under successive Egyptian presidents -- pressure that was released only after the revolt that pushed Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011 opened the door for their move from prison to the president’s office.
“The Brotherhood remains a potent force -- arguably still the country’s most powerful social movement,” Toby Iles, Middle East and Africa economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said in response to e-mailed questions. “If there is to be sustainable progress towards greater political stability, it will be imperative for the interim administration to find a way of including the Brotherhood in the political road map, and the administration has suggested it will try to do this.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said it “will stand against this military coup with all firmness, will not cooperate with the country’s current administration, which has usurped power, and will continue to work for the return of legitimacy alongside all the forces that reject the coup,” according to a statement citing Vice Chairman Essam El-Erian.
Pointing to the country’s poor economic performance, protesters this week said they sought to take back control of a 2011 uprising they argue was subverted by Mursi and his attempt to cement the Muslim Brotherhood’s power.
Standing in front of a group of opposition and religious figures late on July 3, Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi said Mursi “failed to meet and conform with the demands” of the people. That forced them to act after a 48-hour ultimatum had passed, which they did in consultations “without excluding anyone,” he said.
Al-Seesi said a civilian government will be convened, the Islamist-drafted charter suspended and early elections held.
“We totally reject excluding any party, particularly political Islamic groups,” the National Salvation Front, a bloc that opposed Mursi, said in an e-mailed statement. “We stress that the achievement the Egyptian people made lately obliges us to reconcile with all parties and to confirm that the priority now is to remain united while facing serious challenges.”
Egypt’s economy is in worse shape than it was during Mubarak’s last days in office. With growth near the weakest in two decades, unemployment stands at a record 13.2 percent. A bid for a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan has yet to be accepted. Instead, the country has been relying on deposits and other aid, predominantly from Qatar.
“The current turmoil is likely to depress economic prospects further until the government can put Egypt on a credible path towards greater political stability, which is needed to reassure international investors and, of course, tourists,” Iles said. Loan talks with the IMF “are likely to remain in limbo,” he said, adding that finalizing a deal “will likely have to wait until after elections actually take place.”
Even so, Egyptian bonds and stocks rose yesterday following the military intervention.
The yield on 5.75 percent bonds due in April 2020 tumbled 149 basis points, or 1.49 percentage points, the most since the notes were sold in 2010, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The EGX 30 Index of stocks rallied 7.3 percent, the biggest jump in more than a year.
“We will probably see the Islamist reaction divided in two: some Islamists who will resort to violence, but also Islamists who are going to think that they’ve played the long game for eight decades, and will think strategically about elections that they can win again,” said Hani Sabra, Middle East director at the Eurasia Group in New York.